Earlier today, we shared some tidbits from an internal NFLPA memo regarding player opposition to a bill that would make it much harder for pro athletes to obtain workers’ compensation benefits via the state of California. Based on the union’s perspective, it appears that California plans to go too far to close a loophole that has allowed players to recover benefits based on tenuous connections to California.
The NFL has provided its position via a series of questions and answers. In short, the league claims that players have engaged in “rampant abuse” of the California workers’ compensation system.
“There are the players who recovered in multiple jurisdictions for the same injuries,” the league explains. “There are the players who had barely any connection with California at all but still collected There are the players who last played in 1952 but recently filed. There’s Don Davey — a Jaguars player who recovered a six-figure settlement in California and then competed in several professional triathlons immediately thereafter. There is no question there’s rampant abuse.”
The NFL also disputes the union’s contention that the California workers’ compensation benefits come from the players’ share of the revenue generated under the 2011 labor deal.
“Absolutely not true,” the league said regarding the NFLPA’s position. “Workers’ compensation is treated under the CBA the exact same way playoff salaries are treated and the minimum salary benefit for veterans is treated, and players don’t pay for those either. Moreover, it’s illegal in every jurisdiction for employees to pay for their own workers’ comp. Our NFL CBA protects the players’ ability to recover workers’ comp in their teams’ home state but it in no way guarantees — or even contemplates — a double recovery of ‘regular’ workers’ comp and California workers’ comp. If our CBA guaranteed California workers’ comp, our arbitrators that oversee our CBA would have invalidated contractual provisions in player contracts that expressly confine players from filing cumulative trauma claims in California, and that hasn’t happened.”
As a result, the NFL and other pro sports leagues “support closing the [California] loophole because it currently leads to nonsensical results, rampant uncertainty and nearly unlimited exposure for the teams.” The NFL describes the system as a “free for all” that permits players with limited time playing in California to seek compensation for “cumulative trauma” suffered over an entire career of games primarily played elsewhere.
California has become a magnet for these types of workers’ compensation claims because the players have had a better record of success there than elsewhere. And if the money to pay for the claims truly were coming only from the players and not from the teams, the NFL wouldn’t care.
The fact that the NFL cares so much means that the NFL is getting pinched by the California workers’ compensation system. So far, the pro sports leagues’ lobby has done a better job than the union lobby regarding legislation that will make it harder for pro athletes to recover benefits in California.
In the end, the powers-that-be need to strike a fair balance that allows players who have suffered injuries in California to recover workers’ compensation benefits there, but that slams the door on the “me too” mentality that so often applies when a favorable forum provides an seemingly easy path to a payday.